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Near unanimous vote passes resolution for conference to be ONA

After discussion in a hearing and on the floor of a plenary session, the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Pacific Northwest Conference passed nearly unanimously a resolution to be an Open and Affirming (ONA) conference, officially adopting what its practice has been.

Delegates erupted into applause, cheers and tears.

annual meeting delegates
Delegates also pass budget and vote to change committee name. Photo by Ben Von Ulrich of Kirkland Congregtional UCC

Some comments in the hearing and plenary follow.

Megan Crouse of Lummi Island said younger colleagues and friends are “amazed we are trying to make up our minds. It’s time for our words to match our behavior.”

Cameron Sharp of Wayside in Federal Way said the resolution encourages current open and affirming churches to add transsexual and intersex.

Esther Pfeifer of Eltopia UCC appreciates the wide parameter of the church, expressing concerns of some in her church who are afraid that inclusivity can be exclusive.

David McGee of Plymouth UCC in Seattle, said the resolution asks churches to continue prayerful dialogue and does not to push any church to make a decision.

Kathie Forman of University Congregational UCC in Seattle affirmed that “Annual Meeting does not tell churches what to do.”

Terry Teigen of Plymouth UCC said in the early 1990s a similar resolution brought heated discussion and Jeff Spencer was one of the first gay pastors to come out. He thanked the GLBT community for their patience.

Marie Fortune of Broadview UCC, who said she was one of the first lesbian pastors to come out, remembered saying in 1991 for the conference to take it’s time, “but hurry, because we are still waiting.”

Jason Boyd of Kirkland Congregational UCC said while Massachusetts was one of the first ONA conferences, just over 20 percent of its churches are ONA, compared to the PNC where the majority of churches are ONA and 76 percent of PNC members are in ONA churches.

Jeff Barker of Columbia Lakewood Community Church expressed challenged the lack of concern about racial justice and inclusion of black leaders in the conference. Serving 20 years in the PNC, he has seen no change in the number of black pastors, members or conference leaders. “There is a glaring lack of racial justice and people of color,” he said.

The delegates amended the resolution to add that the conference “shall in all aspects of its administrative, program and worship life be Open and Affirming (ONA) of all persons, including but not limited to, those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” They also revised it to say that the Annual Meeting of the PNC “encourage member churches to continue a committed, prayerful and respectful dialogue with one another as we seek God’s guidance for greater biblical and theological understanding of important issues, including those relating to human rights, human sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression.”

Some of the discussion during the plenary follows:

Bob Fitzgerald of University Congregational UCC said that in 1982 his 22-year-old son told him he was gay. “That began a transformative spiritual experience that threw me into chaos and awareness of my ignorance. Needing people to talk with, I turned to PFLAG and friends at University Congregational. I discovered the UCC was leading the march of all denominations. As we began to take it seriously as a conference, it was the most theologically and biblically transforming and exhilarating experience of my life.

Kathleen Morgan who is active in the PNC said that in the 1980s, she felt like a step child when the conference rejected a similar resolution. She said baptism welcomes everyone as a beloved child of God: “Why do we draw lines about who can belong or be a moderator, pastor or treasurer?” she asked. “Why do we let people suffer?” Despite her anguish when the resolution was tabled 21 years ago, she and her partner, Ann Lev, continued to be part of the conference we have loved, but which has not affirmed us,” she said. “I’m older now and less afraid to speak my heart, so I ask you to affirm me and the many in the room.”

David Shull of Spirit of Peace UCC in Seattle said that the conference being open and affirming does not force churches to be open and affirming. The resolution is 26 years late.”

Karin Frank of University Congregational said as a gay person going into ministry she is proud to be in a church that allows her to serve in ministry. "Sexuality and gender expression is not the real welcoming challenge in the church today. I've never heard anyone in the church say that they don't like how the gays dress or act in church, I've never heard anyone say that church is really for straighter people, that the gays don't really respect the church, and that we don't really want the gays to mess up our worship service, and that we don't really want gays in leadership. I've heard all of these said about youth and young adults. I want to be a part of a church that welcomes all of who I am."

Donald Schmidt of Admiral UCC told of often being treated as less that human: “I wish it was a non-issue. If we mean no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, there are no exceptions.”

In other business, PNC treasurer Martha Baldwin of Kirkland UCC reported that Our Churches’ Wider Mission giving was $42,000 over budget and the conference collected $176,000 for Haiti earthquake relief.

With a total of $590,000 in revenue and $530,000 in expenses, the board hopes to add an associate conference minister and double the amount for youth work in the next two years. There will also be enough for Mike Denton to have a sabbatical his fifth year and Arlene Hobson to have a sabbatical after 15 years with the conference.

A task force is looking at funding for theological seminaries and campus ministries.

A resolution to change the name of the Christian Life Service and Action Committee to the Justice and Witness Ministries Committee also passed.

Brandon Duran of Plymouth UCC Seattle is the new moderator. The new vice moderator is Christine Hanson of Peshashtin. Annual Meeting delegates at University UCC in Seattle.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © Summer 2011





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